The noxious progression of thrifting culture

A global pandemic paired with movements against fast fashion has led to the rise of both clothing resale apps and thrift store prices

Shopping second-hand is becoming less of a niche hobby and more of an imperative, but minuscule, action one can take in reducing one's carbon footprint.

In March, the BBC outlined how the fashion industry is contributing to the decimation of the environment alongside the worsening amount of discarded clothing, with the EPA reporting that landfills received nearly 11.2 million tons of textiles in 2017.

Between the growing movement for eco-friendly fashion and the closure of in-person shops due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have found an affinity for purchasing pre-owned garments — in person or online — and are particularly drawn to the modish ethos of Depop, an app where users can buy and sell clothes. 

Dubbed the love child of Instagram and eBay, Depop's total global visits have risen nearly 97% from March to August of this year, with the majority of the online traffic originating within the U.S. 

The popular globalized clothing resale app has been steadily growing its consumer base since being established in 2011, but the platform has seen a proliferation of users, mainly below the age of 29, following the global pandemic.

"With COVID, people feel a lot more safe shopping online rather than being in a store with other people around," Kaden Dawson, a senior studying management and marketing and vice president of ASU's Business of Fashion club, said. "You don’t know who's touching the clothes that came before or the shopping carts … personally I haven't gone to any thrift shops or shopped for anything since … March."

The app now boasts over 15 million worldwide users, a number that will only continue to burgeon thanks to its accessibility and trendy adverts.

READ MORE: The thrift economy

Lorena Witte, a senior studying fashion and president of the Business of Fashion club, said Depop can aid individuals looking to develop their wardrobe from the comfort of their phone.

Depop allows users to search for specific brand names or styles, as opposed to perusing through thrift store clothing racks waiting to stumble upon a gem, Dawson said. 

With people spending an increasing amount of time at home and on their phones, Depop is a "great way of accessing thrifting for those who aren't able to actually go in" to physical storefronts, Witte said.

"People have a preconceived notion that thrifting is not as clean, which during the COVID era that's definitely impacted the second-hand shopping business," Witte said. "I think (Depop) made thrifting a lot more accessible to many people who maybe haven't ever even gone to a thrift store in their life."

Witte, who works as a buyer for Buffalo Exchange, said Depop has resonated well with younger individuals because of the company's stylish branding, its effective use of "influencer marketing" and the "huge demand for brand buying in our generation" at a reduced price.

Akin to eBay, Depop allows users to list and sell items at no cost, and instead charges a flat 10% fee on every item sold. The company attributes this fee to the absence of collecting user data, as there’s no advertising on Depop because "we're all about privacy," as the company puts it in their seller handbook.

"I have a lot of friends who resell on Depop or just resell in general, and a lot of them have lost their jobs because of corona," Dawson said. "So reselling is their only way of income, and their only way to support themselves currently."

The problem in popularity

While the exponential rise of Depop and the thrifting influencer indicate young people's augmenting environmentally-conscious consumerism, they have potentially sparked a new problem for low-income individuals with dynamic pricing in nonprofit thrift stores like Goodwill.

Thrift stores also frequently lack fashionable clothing in larger sizes, another issue posed as environmentally burdensome fast fashion continues its descent into public repudiation.

"I think the one thing that fast fashion has an advantage (in) is their pricing and definitely plus-sizes," Witte said. "Plus-sized people tend to shop fast fashion because it's very difficult to find good thrifting for plus-sizes. And that's another whole can of worms that the fashion industry needs to acknowledge."

READ MORE: Opinion: Forever 21's bankruptcy forces us to confront the reality of fast fashion

Goodwill's value guidelines for donations lists items at a range of prices depending on their condition and their 2020 valuation guide for donors also lists items on a sliding scale.

"I think thrifting itself has become gentrified and Goodwill has finally, kind of, realized what they had and the advantages of actually knowing the value of their items," Witte said. "And things like Depop and Buffalo Exchange have become big competition for places like Goodwill … which I think puts a lot of low-income people who actually depend on second-hand shopping at a disadvantage."

Upper-middle-class second-hand shoppers "need to, kind of, leave Goodwill alone," Witte said, adding that additional institutional programs that support lower-income communities shopping at the aforementioned nonprofit should be implemented to combat its subtle price surging.

"Just yesterday actually one of my friends posted on their Instagram story, they were at Goodwill, there was a pair of Nike sneakers that they were selling for $60," Dawson said. "This is an item that you didn't buy, you're not like Buffalo Exchange where they buy (and) then resell, you're getting donated goods. It shouldn't be priced at a competitive price, it should be priced at something that's affordable.”

Low-income households that rely on thrift stores for basic necessities deserve to buy clothing that isn't subject to dynamic pricing, Dawson said, adding how "Depop and resellers have definitely negatively affected that."

"It can negatively impact the lower-income communities that are shopping at the thrift shops and the environment," Dawson said. "You can consume second-hand at the rate of fast fashion. Second-hand shopping isn’t the end game, the real goal is consuming less actually."


Reach the reporter at stellefs@asu.edu and follow @samtellefson on Twitter. 

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